By Katrina Relyea, VIC Summer Naturalist

Boardwalk on the Boreal Life trail at the VIC, bordered by cotton sedge.


Ever since I walked across my first boardwalk at a conservancy near my childhood home, I have been in love with these structures. However, none elicit as thrilling a joy as a boardwalk over a swamp or bog. I was delighted to learn, at the start of the summer, that I would be a naturalist at a facility with just such a trail!

Boreal Life Trail has quickly secured a spot as my favorite trail here at the V.I.C. It is a great mile long loop for a leisurely paced stroll to explore habitat biodiversity or seek out birds calling at dawn or dusk.

Labrador tea on the Boreal Life Trail

Recently I enjoyed a walk along the bog, trying to lose the mosquitoes in the scorching sunshine and slight breeze. Armed with my camera and binoculars, I set off. My footsteps resounded along the wooden boards, and I was thankful for my hat. Balsam fir (Abies balsamae) rapidly gave way to tamaracks (Laryx laricina). I ran my hand along their needles, feeling the softness, as my eyes sought out the curved dark green leaves and white blossoms of Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum). Making sure not to disturb the plant, I stripped one leaf off and flipped it over. A rusty, mustard-colored pubescence, or fuzz, greeted me. I had plucked an old growth leaf. Crushing its leathery essence into a ball, I held it up to my nose. The smell was a shock. Its sweet floral aroma reminded me of chamomile tea, not what I had been expecting! Putting the leaf into my pocket for later, I continued on.

Black-capped Chickadee on the Boreal Life Trail.

As I passed by plants I only recently learned existed, names such as sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) and bog rosemary (Andromeda glaucophylla) popped into my head. Wispy tufts of white decorated the tops of sedge stalks. My attention was diverted from the common cottonsedge (Eriophorum angustifolium) by a sudden flash of movement. Looking up, I spotted a Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) peering around from a lookout perch. I froze instinctively as its gaze passed over me. After a moment’s scrutiny, I was deemed as non-threatening. Praying that my winged companion would stay put, I moved my camera into position. “Click” went the shutter. Unwilling to disturb the happy bird, I watched until it took off.

I’ve been back to the boardwalk since, and each time it holds new delights for me. Palm Warblers (Setophaga palmarum), rose pogonias (Pogonia ophioglossoides), and Broad-winged Hawks (Buteo platypterus) have all greeted me as I walked along. This is my special place where I feel a spiritual connection to the creation around me. I invite you to walk the trails here at the V.I.C. and discover the solace and majesty of nature.